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1.3: Relations to Neuroscience

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    Cognitive Neuropsychology

    Of course it would be very convenient if we could understand the nature of cognition without the nature of the brain itself. But unfortunately it is very difficult if not impossible to build and prove theories about our thinking in absence of neurobiological constraints. Neuroscience comprises the study of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, brain functions and related psychological and computer based models. For years, investigations on a neuronal level were completely separated from those on a cognitive or psychological level. The thinking process is so vast and complex that there are too many conceivable solutions to the problem of how cognitive operation could be accomplished.

    Neurobiological data provide physical evidence for a theoretical approach to the investigation of cognition. Therefore it narrows the research area and makes it much more exact. The correlation between brain pathology and behaviour supports scientists in their research. It has been known for a long time that different types of brain damage, traumas, lesions, and tumours affect behaviour and cause changes in some mental functions. The rise of new technologies allows us to see and investigate brain structures and processes never seen before. This provides us with a lot of information and material to build simulation models which help us to understand processes in our mind. As neuroscience is not always able to explain all the observations made in laboratories, neurobiologists turn towards Cognitive Psychology in order to find models of brain and behaviour on an interdisciplinary level – Cognitive Neuropsychology. This “inter-science” as a bridge connects and integrates the two most important domains and their methods of research of the human mind. Research at one level provides constraints, correlations and inspirations for research at another level.

    Neuroanatomy Basics

    The basic building blocks of the brain are a special sort of cells called neurons. There are approximately 100 billion neurons involved in information processing in the brain. When we look at the brain superficially, we can't see these neurons, but rather look at two halves called the hemispheres. The hemispheres themselves may differ in size and function, as we will see later in the book, but principally each of them can be subdivided into four parts called the lobes: the temporal, parietal, occipital and frontal lobe. This division of modern neuroscience is supported by the up- and down-bulging structure of the brain's surface. The bulges are called gyri (singular gyrus), the creases sulci (singular sulcus). They are also involved in information processing. The different tasks performed by different subdivisions of the brain as attention, memory and language cannot be viewed as separated from each other, nevertheless some parts play a key role in a specific task. For example the parietal lobe has been shown to be responsible for orientation in space and the relation you have to it, the occipital lobe is mainly responsible for visual perception and imagination etc. Summed up, brain anatomy poses some basic constraints to what is possible for us and a better understanding will help us to find better therapies for cognitive deficits as well as guide research for cognitive psychologists. It is one goal of our book to present the complex interactions between the different levels on which the brain that can be described, and their implications for Cognitive Neuropsychology.


    Newer methods, like EEG and fMRI etc. allow researchers to correlate the behaviour of a participant in an experiment with the brain activity which is measured simultaneously. It is possible to record neurophysiological responses to certain stimuli or to find out which brain areas are involved in the execution of certain mental tasks. EEG measures the electric potentials along the skull through electrodes that are attached to a cap. While its spatial resolution is not very precise, the temporal resolution lies within the range of milliseconds. The use of fMRI benefits from the fact the increased brain activity goes along with increased blood flow in the active region. The haemoglobin in the blood has magnetic properties that are registered by the fMRI scanner. The spatial resolution of fMRI is very precise in comparison to EEG. On the other hand, the temporal resolution is in the range of just 1–2 seconds.

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